Albert Einstein is often attributed as saying that play is the highest form of research. Play is ultimately the most essential ingredient for learning and development in the early years and therefore needs to be placed at the forefront when planning your early years curriculum. Sadly, some early years settings have become burdened with the demands and pressure to drive a more formal approach to learning, limiting play and children’s learning potential.
In echoing Greg Bottrill’s words about rethinking your early years, it’s all about ‘making their universe the right universe,’ ensuring play is central to maximising learning potential in a world that is developmentally appropriate for your cohort. Now, more than ever is the time to embrace play as the core of your early years curriculum, regaining the magic of childhood.
Research suggests that play promotes academic and personal development in children. ‘Positive outcomes have been identified….including vocabulary, reasoning and early numeracy,’ (Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), 2019). Play is essential to young children’s brain development and therefore, ensuring your daily routines feature extended periods of play will mean you will be providing the perfect conditions for children’s cognitive development to blossom. ‘Children need time and space to delve into deep play, in which they are focused and absorbed by their own learning. Deep play that enriches and enables, that creates the parameters for children to exercise their bodies and their brains is vital,’ (Greg Bottrill, 2018)
During play, children inevitably stumble across problems. We live in a world filled with complex problems and for these, we need solutions. Play provides children with the optimal conditions to problem solve and reason, enabling them to experiment and develop their critical and creative thinking, all aspects of research similar to what the Einstein quotation was referring to.
Studies by the Education Endowment Foundation, 2019 indicate that child-led play can also have long long-term benefits later in life.
Piaget and Montessori are attributed as describing play as the work of childhood. Play provides an authentic and meaningful platform for children to practise skills for life inside and outside of their setting. Simple resources like balls and blocks can help young children practise their fine motor skills, problem-solve, and use their imagination. Make believe activities provide children with opportunities to negotiate social situations and practise how to solve conflicts amongst their peers. Creative play gives children the opportunity to develop confidence and express themselves.
Embracing the magic of play during childhood is essential to promoting early learning skills. Children are not afraid to play, but ensuring we get play right is vital to providing an enabling environment where the magic of childhood can materialise.
So how do we get play right? Firstly, we need to take at deeper look at the ‘universe’ we’re creating for our children. In other words, are you limiting children’s learning or are you providing a limitless learning environment for them to develop in? Your ‘continuous provision needs to allow children the freedom to interpret,’ (Greg Botterill, 2018).
Top tips for settings and schools to consider to ensure play is central to your early years curriculum:
- do the activity zones across your provision enable open ended opportunities for play?
- do the resources across each activity zone promote opportunities for skill development across your EYFS curriculum?
- does the continuous provision factor in children’s interests to support their learning and development?
- is the continuous provision appealing to girls and boys? Does it promote equality and diversity?
- does your continuous provision promote independence and decision making?
- does your curriculum enable enough time throughout the daily routine for children to experience deep, child-led learning?
Using these simple questions to review and reflect on your continuous provision will help to promote play across your curriculum, whereby ‘real play enables children- it lights them up,’ (Greg Botterill, 2018) and promotes the magic of childhood learning. Once you create an enabling environment that promotes ‘real play’, high quality adult interactions will facilitate children’s play through modelling, scaffolding and questioning. These perfect ingredients will enable high quality play to flourish and transform the magic of childhood curiosity, awe and wonder into deep learning.
If you would like to explore this topic in more depth we are thrilled to welcome Greg Botterill, the author of the bestselling book ‘Can I go and play now?’ to our National Early Years conference on Wednesday 2nd March 2022. Greg will be speaking, exploring how a curriculum can capture play to support children’s development.